CBC Unions: Contract Negotiations at an Impasse (UPDATED)

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Railway Age has obtained a Jan. 20 letter signed by SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson addressed to the union’s railroad general chairpersons stating that the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition (CBC) and National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) are at an impasse in contract negotiations, and that the CBC unions will file for mediation the week of Jan. 24:

The unions comprising the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition are the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA); the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen/Teamsters Rail Conference (BLET); the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS); the International Association of Machinists (IAM); the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB); the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers/SEIU (NCFO); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU); the Transportation Communications Union / IAM (TCU), including TCU’s Brotherhood Railway Carmen Division (BRC); and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART–TD). Collectively, the CBC unions represent more than 105,000 railroad workers covered by the various organizations’ national agreements.

”Unions representing some 90% of the workforce will bargain with the multi-employer NCCC, which represents most Class I freight railroads and many smaller ones,” notes Railway Age Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner, author of Understanding the Railway Labor Act. “The NCCC, consisting of carrier labor relations officers, is part of the NRLC (National Railway Labor Conference). Joining BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific at the bargaining table will be CN (U.S. rail operations). CN’s previously different contract-reopening dates have been realigned to those of other Class I railroads at the table, and while CN stands alone with hourly wage rates for U.S. train and engine service (T&ES) employees, the NCCC says ‘nothing prohibits’ CN from bargaining collectively with carriers having trip rates. Canadian Pacific, with U.S. operations, is not an NCCC member and bargains separately. 

“Many smaller railroads limit NCCC participation to benefits issues. While CSX will participate in national handling for wages, benefits and work rules for all non-operating crafts, and has stated it is aligned with the other Class I’s in its bargaining goals, CSX will limit its participation in national handling to benefits for operating crafts (BLET and SMART-TD), meaning it will not participate in national handling for wages and work rules with those two unions.

“Going forward, the NMB will provide a senior mediator in an attempt to guide the parties to a voluntary settlement. The Railway Labor Act (RLA) provides that neither carriers nor labor may initiate a lockout or strike during this period. If and when the NMB—and only the NMB—determines there is a bargaining impasse, it will recommend that the White House create a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to make non-binding recommendations for settlement. That process involves a series of cooling off periods stretching over 90 days before provisions of the RLA are exhausted and the parties may engage in self-help (lockout or strike). 

“Significantly, the NMB historically has not declared an impasse—leading to creation of a PEB and a possible national railroad work stoppage—during an election year, as lawmakers are loathe to deal with controversial issues that might force a congressional vote on a back-to-work order and third-party implementation of revised contract terms. Under the RLA, contracts never expire, but remain in force until revised through voluntary agreement or congressional legislation. In July 2021, the NMB commenced mediation with the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and the Mechanical Division of SMART, which represent the other 20% of the railroads’ unionized work force.”

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